Here, Zora Neale Hurston writes to her nephew, advising him on his unraveling marriage and telling him details of her life in Florida, from a recently departed “pet stomach ulcer” to a full catalogue of the types of oranges and grapefruits that grow there.
516½ King Street
March 31, 1957
Dear E. Jr.
Now, look what you went and done? Here I had me a pet stomach ulcer which I had raised from a pup, and you go and make me laugh out loud and scare it off. In the first place, nobody is supposed to have ulcers but rich folks loaded down with responsibilities for taking care of their loot. You know that I’m not guilty of the millions of bucks. Second, ulcers are very rare in females. Therefore you can see how hard it was for me to get hold of a baby ulcer and raise it up. Then you have to up and run it off from home. However, there is a local acquaintance with $3,000,000 who had not an ulcer to his name and therefore was looked down upon by other millionaires. He was very glad to take out a five-year lease on my fugitive ulcer and give it a good home. Poor thing! But I guess it will get along all right in its new home. That frantic hand you drew grabbing after the fleeting buck was a killer! I laugh and laugh everytime I look at it. It goes to prove my contention that you have the talent you just do not believe in yourself enough. Chalk up another score against Myrtis. After I saw what she was like I never understand how your father could take it!
Maybe he really means to do something about it now for he told me 2 months ago that he was determined about it. It has always been my impression that he had ceased to care for her. It was the financial angle that bothered him.
Now as to your own marriage—I think that you are too much like me to be tied up when you are not happy regardless of the good qualities of the other party. So do not count on my kicking the bucket if you call it a day. In fact, artistic people just dont go for much tying down even for the economic safety angle. Your father was terribly distressed at first, but then he wrote that it was something you had to work out for yourself, even though he felt that your wife was a fine person & good for you. Your own happiness came first with him.
Thems my sentiments also. That goes for both of you E.E’s. You dont live but once and you might as well be as happy as possible on this one trip on earth. He should have shucked off Myrtis years ago and been a contented and self-respecting man. As you harked—take off at the dropping of a hat—in fact, drop the hat yourself.
The variety of oranges you got was pineapples and temples with very thin skin like a tangerine. I will send some more next week but this time it will be Valencias, because it is too late for anything else. Oh yes, you get navels last time too. Valencias make a pretty show and are the most profitable to grow […]
Since your father is going to buy property down here & no doubt put in a few fruit trees, I will tell you the names of the most popular oranges & grapefruits
1. Parson Brown = the first orange ready for the market in the Fall. Start picking in late October or early November. Skin a little thick, fairly good flavor
2. Pineapple = Mid-November on. Excellent flavor when allowed to ripen on tree. Floridians seldom eat any orange until after Christmas. We sell ‘em to the Yankees before Christmas.
3. King Orange = flat bud-end like a tangerine & loose rough skin like a tangerine. Pinkish-yellow meat like a bitter-sweet. Top of all oranges in quality & price.
4. Temple = resembles King in shape & color. Very fine in quality. I prefer temples to Kings.
5. Navels = large, sweet when allowed to fully ripen on tree. Little navel at bud-end.
6. Satsuma = late orange, appears to be a cross with tangerine
7. Valencias = latest crop matures from March on. Brings high prices because there is no competition & it makes a fine show in a package.
1. March Seedless = “white” meat, large & sweet
2. Pink = best variety has dark pink meat very popular with Yankees, but I think that a white meat grapefruit with seed top all for flavor.
It has been my dream for years that you would illustrate a book of mine. I know that the stuff is there. You just do not as yet recognize your own talents. But again like me, through spiritual upset in youth. You are a late bloomer. That is to the good in a way. You will appear on the scene with more maturity & finish in your work. We will discuss the whole thing at length at the first opportunity.
Right now, I am overcome with happiness over you & your father finding the good & the glorious in each other. I was afraid at my last writing that your marital woes might hurt you with him.
See you later, Alligator—
With all my love,
2 more payments on the Willys Station wagon & I will be free. I am going to save the tough old jalopy for you, me & [illegible]
From Zora Neale Hurston: A Life in Letters. Hurston, Zora Neale, and Carla Kaplan. New York: Doubleday, 2002.